With millions of Americans struggling to keep ahead of credit card and mortgage payments each month, considerable attention has been focused on the nation's unemployment rate as one of the main culprits for falling credit scores everywhere.
With that in mind, the latest unemployment figures from the federal government offer a mixed bag of news for people who are hoping to get their personal finances back on track by finding a job.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the nationwide unemployment rate remained unchanged at 9.7 percent in February, marking a relatively modest loss of 36,000 jobs from the economy. This compares favorably to the hundreds of thousands of jobs that were being lost on a monthly basis at the height of the recession.
The 9.7 percent unemployment rate, while high, is also somewhat good news because that figure remains somewhat below its peak of 10.1 percent. Some economists had also predicted that the rate would peak at 10.2 percent or higher this year before heading back down, which invites speculation about whether the worst for the employment market is now passed.
A total of 8.4 million jobs have now been lost during the recession, although the latest report cited gains in the temporary hiring sector. This is potentially good news because historically, temporary jobs have been at the forefront of an upswing in job creation.
However, a closer look at the economic data suggests there is still a very long way to go for many Americans, especially those who may be the most vulnerable to ruined credit scores and unpaid debts.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 8.8 million Americans are now working part time for economic reasons, which is an increase of 500,000 since January.
Another 2.5 million people were said to be marginally attached to the work force - a figure that stood at just 476,000 a year ago. This category includes people who have tried to find work in the past 12 months, but do not technically count as unemployed because they have not tried to find a job in the past four weeks.
The report also cited the presence of 1.2 million discouraged workers, which means that they have stopped looking for a job because they believe none are available to them.
Until these numbers start ticking downward by a substantial margin, the nation is likely to continue to record high rates of credit card and mortgage defaults, among other economic strains.